Dutch food supplement and vitamin maker Numico said on Friday it was rejecting class action claims by US lawyers against its US units, but added that even in a worst case scenario its exposure was small.
Klaas De Jong of Numico, the world's biggest vitamin and food supplement maker, told Reuters that lawyers in several US states have issued claims against a number of suppliers of androstenedione, including Numico units GNC and Rexall Sundown.
"We have received claims ... we think there is no justification for them," said De Jong, executive vice president of corporate affairs.
He was reacting to an article in the Dutch afternoon newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which quoted a lawyer in Florida as saying the claims against Numico totalled around €350 million.
'Andro' supplements, which were said to boost muscle mass, made headlines in 1998 when US baseball star Mark McGwire said he used the product. Researchers have said the over-the-counter supplement can produce positive urine tests for a steroid banned in organised sports.
Users of andro are alleging in the claims that the supplement did not perform as advertised, De Jong said.
The product is no longer being sold by Numico, but total sales by GNC retail shops were $9 million and Rexall sales generated $4 million, De Jong said.
GNC only sold the supplement, so if there was any negative court ruling, Numico would pass on the claim to the makers, he said.
"In a worst case scenario (for Rexall), the maximum claim to the company would be four times sales, which in this particular case would be $16 million," De Jong said.
The amount of claims mentioned by the lawyer in the newspaper were exaggerated, he said.
Food supplements account for around 60 per cent of Numico's turnover following the takeover of US General Nutrition Companies in 1999 and of Rexall Sundown the following year. Numico is also Europe's largest maker of baby formula and has hospital feeding activities.